The last several months it seems like more and more people are finding out about what we do at CrossFit Walter Reed and we are getting bombarded with emails asking us how we started the program and if we have any advice for starting a similar program for wounded veterans and/or active duty at other bases. The following is what we did and what I recommend you do.
Don’t ask anybody’s permission.
Dillon Behr, the founder of CrossFit Walter Reed, is a former Green Beret and patient at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He shadowed sessions with two injured vets that I was training at Potomac CrossFit, grabbed some guys that were still at the hospital, got his CrossFitting girlfriend who worked at the hospital to corral some more guys, and held a class.
He didn’t ask permission of the command, he didn’t ask permission of the gym. He used initiative and just did it.
This is the most important thing to remember in trying to start something like this up. Don’t ask anybody and don’t accept “no” as a response from anybody.*
“Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” -Mattis
There will be people on base that love CrossFit and will sell their first born to help you out.
There will be others that think that CrossFit guarantees injury and is just another fitness fad that they need to keep their people from ever trying.
As you develop your program, you have a very delicate balancing act of trying to get enough attention that you can continue to attract athletes, but not so much attention that members of the command that might be antagonistic to your program find out about it.
What is critical is finding your “Rabbis”. These are folks with pull and/or rank within the command that when you have somebody that’s really inhibiting what you can do (and this usually comes in the form of crippling bureaucracy, not outright “no’s”), you can ask them to step in.
We are supported by a 501(c)3 called Team R4V which is a great organization that does everything they can for us.
We get the majority of our support from the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment (which is not affiliated with the Wounded Warrior Fund). Also, CrossFit HQ donated $25,000 worth of gear for our use.
If/when you start a CrossFit gym or program for Wounded Warriors, you are going to get your email blown up with offers to partner and/or help out from individuals and charities.
I certainly trust Team R4V, but with the vast number of people that have set up veteran’s charities and then pocketed most of the money, you have to vet who you work with. A great resource for this are GuideStar.Org. Every 501(c)3 has to post their tax returns on their website as well. So if you can’t find it, ask for a link to it and what you are trying to find out is what their fundraising amount was last year, what was the salary of their key personnel, and how much was spent on programs versus overhead.
If you can pull it off, get the command to roger up support and you don’t have to worry about this.
Vetting should be foremost in your mind when selecting coaches too. You need to find people that are motivated, competent, and will show up week in and week out without flaking.
There are probably a million CrossFitters that love the “idea” of being a CrossFit Walter Reed coach, but experience has proved that only about six people can pull it off.
Most folks that have volunteered have un-volunteered. This doesn’t make them bad people. More or less we have this program covered, and an hour commuting and another hour of training in the middle of the day every week just isn’t workable for most folks.
When folks get in touch to help out, we have them just come in and workout with the guys. This gives us a chance to do some butt sniffing and gauge their competence and character. If they seem flaky or don’t seem qualified to coach, we tell them to keep coming in just to workout. This gauges their dedication and we can continue to screen.
Most folks figure out that they don’t have the time to come in and that the “Stand by Me” moments they were expecting aren’t the same as reality. So these folks just stop showing up.
The folks that demonstrate they are committed and competent get an assistant coach slot in one of our classes and we develop them from there.
Oh yeah, you have to do that too.
This has been discussed plenty of time on our blog and on my resources post. What I’ll say briefly is this:
1) The plan only survives first enemy contact. You need to go with the flow because your workout with running and rowing will have 10 athletes and nine of them will be bilateral amputees that can’t run or row. Come up with a different plan and execute.
2) Don’t hurt these guys. Their bodies are spending a significant amount of energy healing itself. You need to give them a solid dose, or they won’t come back. But if you break them, they won’t come back either.
Hope this helps some folks, if you have questions, post to comments. And as always, essem plena cacas.
*If we ever have a drink, ask me about Marine Corps Community Services, LtCol Dan Wilson (who is an outstanding Marine Officer), and Operation Phoenix to find out how bad things can get with dealing with entrenched quasi-private interests.